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Valedictorian to Pursue Further Study

March 26, 2018

As she worked on a speech to deliver on behalf of her fellow graduates, honoured valedictorian Serena Hakiwai was thinking of her beloved grandfather. 

The late Bill Stirling gruffly informed Serena that it was about time she used her brain when, in her mid-thirties, she enrolled at EIT.  He would have been proud of what his granddaughter achieved since.  

Serena approached tertiary studies one step at a time.  She started with the level 5 Diploma in Applied Management, progressed to the level 6 New Zealand Diploma in Business and completed her Bachelor of Business Studies mid-last year as the top marketing student and top business student overall.

Serena Hakiwai alongside a carving that looks to her marae at Omahu.

Head of Business and Computing Rebekah Dinwoodie says Serena achieved great results at EIT, aiming always for A grades while also finding time to help her classmates.

Of Ngāti Kahungunu and Te Whānau ā Apanui descent, Serena was born in Hastings and attended Karamu High School.  When the family moved to Wellington, she finished her schooling at Onslow College and went on to work in office jobs – at the Māori Broadcasting Agency and then in Australia and Scotland for a further five years.

Returning from overseas, she settled back in Hawke’s Bay but no longer felt satisfied with entry-level office jobs.

“I was getting too old for that,” she says.  “I worked here for a couple of years but then decided I needed to further my education.  I needed to get a qualification behind me.”

She is grateful for having received study scholarships from Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga and Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc.

Familiar with office procedure and management structures, Serena chose to study business and dovetailed that with part-time work.  Just over two years ago, she joined the Hastings District Council’s marketing and communications team as a marketing assistant.

“The position was advertised through EIT,” she says, “and a lecturer put my name forward.”   

Studying at EIT was “great”, with Māori students well-supported by a   pouwhiranaki employed by Learning and Information Service and mentors assigned to the various schools.  Library staff were also very helpful in sourcing the information she needed.

Many of the business school teachers consider Serena’s final-year study into Māori voter participation in local body elections to be her most exciting work.

“Associate professor Jonathan Sibley’s support and guidance kept reeling me in,” she recalls. “I went down a lot of different rabbit holes and he kept dragging me out, asking if my lines of inquiry were answering my topic question.”

Serena says it feels great to have gained her degree but she isn’t resting on her laurels.   

“It’s opened something up for me that I’ve not quite finished with yet.  I want more Māori taking part in voting and making their voices heard in local government.  I’m looking to explore that with a master’s degree at EIT.”